Adobe puts the HoloLens to work in retail

An emerging technology group at Adobe has shown off a trio of retail enablement apps that use augmented reality to visualize analytics.
Written by Ross Rubin, Contributor

Over the past few years, Adobe has moved aggressively from a developer of creative applications to address business needs of its media-creating customers. The result has been the Adobe Experience Cloud, a roll-up of app suites designed to address marketing, advertising and analytics.

Those products, of course, are all available to Adobe's customers. But the company also has an internal group -- Adobe@Adobe -- charged with dog-fooding its own products as well as incubating new experiences.

The group has recently developed a trio of HoloLens demonstrations that show the kind of visualizations augmented reality can achieve in a retail setting. These include:

Traffic paths. Using the HoloLens, store managers can view augmented data above the floor of a store showing what percentage of people have traveled down those paths. This would likely be recorded with beacons or cameras.

Digital mirror overlays. By overlaying graphics onto a smart mirror, a store manager can see information about user demographics, such as how many items have been tried on in which color, and how many of those purchases converted

Giving voice agents an augmented display. The great thing about voice agents is that we don't need to be staring at screens to use them. However, screens provide a canvas for rich information display and interactivity that isn't practical with voice output, at least today. By taking advantage of a virtual display, HoloLens users can interact with an agent such as Cortana and see visualized analytic information about their businesses wherever they might be in a room.

One intriguing part of many of the demonstrations is how they show the commercial side of what could be possible consumer applications of AR. For example, at some point, headwear might become inexpensive and pervasive enough that the technology could actually guide customers to specific parts of the store with more precision than today's directory sign ever could, even redirecting people on the fly to place an order in store for items that might be out of stock. The analytics on usage of the mirror parallel other augmented reality demonstrations of consumers being able to, for example, change colors of a garment while it's being tried on.

For Adobe, augmented reality forms a bridge between its newer positioning as a provider of analytics and its traditional one as a domain expert in graphics. The HoloLens' earliness to market and Microsoft's support of enterprise applications make it a natural platform for such experimentation.

But Adobe understands that the technology is in its early days. For example, the HoloLens would not be able to map a space as large as, say, a Walmart SuperCenter today. Still, these visualizations show the promise of putting analytics in context for physical commercial locations or, in the case of voice agents, where no other visualization backdrop exists.

The Business Reality of VR and AR:

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